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We Girls: a Home Story By A. D. T. Whitney Characters: 23042

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Three things came of the Marchbanks's party for us Holabirds.

Mrs. Van Alstyne took a great fancy to Rosamond.

Harry Goldthwaite put a new idea into Barbara's head.

And Ruth's little undeveloped plans, which the facile fingers were to carry out, received a fresh and sudden impetus.

You have thus the three heads of the present chapter.

How could any one help taking a fancy to Rosamond Holabird? In the first place, as Mrs. Van Alstyne said, there was the name,-"a making for anybody"; for names do go a great way, notwithstanding Shakespeare.

It made you think of everything springing and singing and blooming and sweet. Its expression was "blossomy, nightingale-y"; atilt with glee and grace. And that was the way she looked and seemed. If you spoke to her suddenly, the head turned as a bird's does, with a small, shy, all-alive movement; and the bright eye glanced up at you, ready to catch electric meanings from your own. When she talked to you in return, she talked all over; with quiet, refined radiations of life and pleasure in each involuntary turn and gesture; the blossom of her face lifted and swayed like that of a flower delicately poised upon its stalk. She was like a flower chatting with a breeze.

She forgot altogether, as a present fact, that she looked pretty; but she had known it once, when she dressed herself, and been glad of it; and something lasted from the gladness just enough to keep out of her head any painful, conscious question of how she was seeming. That, and her innate sense of things proper and refined, made her manners what Mrs. Van Alstyne pronounced them,-"exquisite."

That was all Mrs. Van Alstyne waited to find out. She did not go deep; hence she took quick fancies or dislikes, and a great many of them.

She got Rosamond over into a corner with herself, and they had everybody round them. All the people in the room were saying how lovely Miss Holabird looked to-night. For a little while that seemed a great and beautiful thing. I don't know whether it was or not. It was pleasant to have them find it out; but she would have been just as lovely if they had not. Is a party so very particular a thing to be lovely in? I wonder what makes the difference. She might have stood on that same square of the Turkey carpet the next day and been just as pretty. But, somehow, it seemed grand in the eyes of us girls, and it meant a great deal that it would not mean the next day, to have her stand right there, and look just so, to-night.

In the midst of it all, though, Ruth saw something that seemed to her grander,-another girl, in another corner, looking on,-a girl with a very homely face; somebody's cousin, brought with them there. She looked pleased and self-forgetful, differently from Rose in her prettiness; she looked as if she had put herself away, comfortably satisfied; this one looked as if there were no self put away anywhere. Ruth turned round to Leslie Goldthwaite, who stood by.

"I do think," she said,-"don't you?-it's just the bravest and strongest thing in the world to be awfully homely, and to know it, and to go right on and have a good time just the same;-every day, you see, right through everything! I think such people must be splendid inside!"

"The most splendid person I almost ever knew was like that," said Leslie. "And she was fifty years old too."

"Well," said Ruth, drawing a girl's long breath at the fifty years, "it was pretty much over then, wasn't it? But I think I should like-just once-to look beautiful at a party!"

The best of it for Barbara had been on the lawn, before tea.

Barbara was a magnificent croquet-player. She and Harry Goldthwaite were on one side, and they led off their whole party, going nonchalantly through wicket after wicket, as if they could not help it; and after they had well distanced the rest, just toling each other along over the ground, till they were rovers together, and came down into the general field again with havoc to the enemy, and the whole game in their hands on their own part.

"It was a handsome thing to see, for once," Dakie Thayne said; "but they might make much of it, for it wouldn't do to let them play on the same side again."

It was while they were off, apart down the slope, just croqueted away for the time, to come up again with tremendous charge presently, that Harry asked her if she knew the game of "ship-coil."

Barbara shook her head. What was it?

"It is a pretty thing. The officers of a Russian frigate showed it to us. They play it with rings made of spliced rope; we had them plain enough, but you might make them as gay as you liked. There are ten rings, and each player throws them all at each turn. The object is to string them up over a stake, from which you stand at a certain distance. Whatever number you make counts up for your side, and you play as many rounds as you may agree upon."

Barbara thought a minute, and then looked up quickly.

"Have you told anybody else of that?"

"Not here. I haven't thought of it for a good while."

"Would you just please, then," said Barbara in a hurry, as somebody came down toward them in pursuit of a ball, "to hush up, and let me have it all to myself for a while? And then," she added, as the stray ball was driven up the lawn again, and the player went away after it, "come some day and help us get it up at Westover? it's such a thing, you see, to get anything that's new."

"I see. To be sure. You shall have the State Right,-isn't that what they make over for patent concerns? And we'll have something famous out of it. They're getting tired of croquet, or thinking they ought to be, which is the same thing." It was Barbara's turn now; she hit Harry Goldthwaite's ball with one of her precise little taps, and, putting the two beside each other with her mallet, sent them up rollicking into the thick of the fight, where the final hand-to-hand struggle was taking place between the last two wickets and the stake. Everybody was there in a bunch when she came; in a minute everybody of the opposing party was everywhere else, and she and Harry had it between them again. She played out two balls, and then, accidentally, her own. After one "distant, random gun," from the discomfited foe, Harry rolled quietly up against the wand, and the game was over.

It was then and there that a frank, hearty liking and alliance was re-established between Harry Goldthwaite and Barbara, upon an old remembered basis of ten years ago, when he had gone away to school and given her half his marbles for a parting keepsake,-"as he might have done," we told her, "to any other boy."

"Ruth hasn't had a good time," said mother, softly, standing in her door, looking through at the girls laying away ribbons and pulling down hair, and chattering as only girls in their teens do chatter at bedtime.

Ruth was in her white window-chair, one foot up on a cricket; and, as if she could not get into that place without her considering-fit coming over her, she sat with her one unlaced boot in her hand, and her eyes away out over the moonlighted fields.

"She played all the evening, nearly. She always does," said Barbara.

"Why, I had a splendid time!" cried Ruth, coming down upon them out of her cloud with flat contradiction. "And I'm sure I didn't play all the evening. Mrs. Van Alstyne sang Tennyson's 'Brook,' aunt; and the music splashes so in it! It did really seem as if she were spattering it all over the room, and it wasn't a bit of matter!"

"The time was so good, then, that it has made you sober," said Mrs. Holabird, coming and putting her hand on the back of the white chair. "I've known good times do that."

"It has given me ever so much thinking to do; besides that brook in my head, 'going on forever-ever! go-ing-on-forever!'" And Ruth broke into the joyous refrain of the song as she ended.

"I shall come to you for a great long talk to-morrow morning, mother!" Ruth said again, turning her head and touching her lips to the mother-hand on her chair. She did not always say "mother," you see; it was only when she wanted a very dear word.

"We'll wind the rings with all the pretty-colored stuffs we can find in the bottomless piece-bag," Barbara was saying, at the same moment, in the room beyond. "And you can bring out your old ribbon-box for the bowing-up, Rosamond. It's a charity to clear out your glory-holes once in a while. It's going to be just-splend-umphant!"

"If you don't go and talk about it," said Rosamond. "We must keep the new of it to ourselves."

"As if I needed!" cried Barbara, indignantly. "When I hushed up Harry Goldthwaite, and went round all the rest of the evening without doing anything but just give you that awful little pinch!"

"That was bad enough," said Rosamond, quietly; she never got cross or inelegantly excited about anything. "But I do think the girls will like it. And we might have tea out on the broad piazza."

"That is bare floor too," said Barbara, mischievously.

Now, our dining-room had not yet even the English drugget. The dark new boards would do for summer weather, mother said. "If it had been real oak, polished!" Rosamond thought. "But hard-pine was kitcheny."

Ruth went to bed with the rest of her thinking and the brook-music flittering in her brain.

Mrs. Lewis Marchbanks had talked behind her with Jeannie Hadden about her playing. It was not the compliment that excited her so, although they said her touch and expression were wonderful, and that her fingers were like little flying magnets, that couldn't miss the right points. Jeannie Hadden said she liked to see Ruth Holabird play, as well as she did to hear her.

But it was Mrs. Marchbanks's saying that she would give almost anything to have Lily taught such a style; she hardly knew what she should do with her; there was no good teacher in the town who gave lessons at the houses, and Lily was not strong enough to go regularly to Mr. Viertelnote. Besides, she had picked up a story of his being cross, and rapping somebody's fingers, and Lily was very shy and sensitive. She never did herself any justice if she began to be afraid.

Jeannie Hadden said it was just her mother's trouble about Reba, except that Reba was strong enough; only that Mrs. Hadden preferred a teacher to come to the house.

"A good young-lady teacher, to give beginners a desirable style from the very first, is exceedingly needed since Miss Robbyns went away," said Mrs. Marchbanks, to whom just then her sister came and said something, and drew her off.

Ruth's fingers flew over the keys; and it must have been magnetism that guided them, for in her brain quite other quick notes were struck, and ringing out a busy chime of their own.

"If I only could!" she was saying to herself. "If they really would have me, and they would let me at home. Then I could go to Mr. Viertelnote. I think I could do it! I'm almost sure! I could show anybody what I know,-and if they like that!"

It went over and over now, as she lay wakeful in bed, mixed up with the "forever-ever," and the dropping tinkle of that lovely trembling ripple of accompaniment, until the late moon got round to the south and slanted in between the white dimity curtains, and set a glimmering little ghost in the arm-chair.

Ruth came down late to breakfast.

Barbara was pushing back her chair.

"Mother,-or anybody! Do you want any errand down in town? I'm going out for a stramble. A party always has to be walked off next


"And talked off, doesn't it? I'm afraid my errand would need to be with Mrs. Goldthwaite or Mrs. Hadden, wouldn't it?"

"Well, I dare say I shall go in and see Leslie. Rosamond, why can't you come too? It's a sort of nuisance that boy having come home!"

"That 'great six-foot lieutenant'!" parodied Rose.

"I don't care! You said feet didn't signify. And he used to be a boy, when we played with him so."

"I suppose they all used to be," said Rose, demurely.

"Well, I won't go! Because the truth is I did want to see him, about those-patent rights. I dare say they'll come up."

"I've no doubt," said Rosamond.

"I wish you would both go away somewhere," said Ruth, as Mrs. Holabird gave her her coffee. "Because I and mother have got a secret, and I know she wants her last little hot corner of toast."

"I think you are likely to get the last little cold corner," said Mrs. Holabird, as Ruth sat, forgetting her plate, after the other girls had gone away.

"I'm thinking, mother, of a real warm little corner! Something that would just fit in and make everything so nice. It was put into my head last night, and I think it was sent on purpose; it came right up behind me so. Mrs. Lewis Marchbanks and Jeannie Hadden praised my playing; more than I could tell you, really; and Mrs. Marchbanks wants a-" Ruth stopped, and laughed at the word that was coming-"lady-teacher for Lily, and so does Mrs. Hadden for Reba. There, mother. It's in your head now! Please turn it over with a nice little think, and tell me you would just as lief, and that you believe perhaps I could!"

By this time Ruth was round behind Mrs. Holabird's chair, with her two hands laid against her cheeks. Mrs. Holabird leaned her face down upon one of the hands, holding it so, caressingly.

"I am sure you could, Ruthie. But I am sure I wouldn't just as lief! I would liefer you should have all you need without."

"I know that, mother. But it wouldn't be half so good for me!"

"That's something horrid, I know!" exclaimed Barbara, coming in upon the last word. "It always is, when people talk about its being good for them. It's sure to be salts or senna, and most likely both."

"O dear me!" said Ruth, suddenly seized with a new perception of difficulty. Until now, she had only been considering whether she could, and if Mrs. Holabird would approve. "Don't you-or Rose-call it names, Barbara, please, will you?"

"Which of us are you most afraid of? For Rosamond's salts and senna are different from mine, pretty often. I guess it's hers this time, by your putting her in that anxious parenthesis."

"I'm afraid of your fun, Barbara, and I'm afraid of Rosamond's-"

"Earnest? Well, that is much the more frightful. It is so awfully quiet and pretty-behaved and positive. But if you're going to retain me on your side, you'll have to lay the case before me, you know, and give me a fee. You needn't stand there, bribing the judge beforehand."

Ruth turned right round and kissed Barbara.

"I want you to go with me and see if Mrs. Hadden and Mrs. Lewis Marchbanks would let me teach the children."

"Teach the children! What?"

"O, music, of course. That's all I know, pretty much. And-make Rose understand."

"Ruth, you're a duck! I like you for it! But I'm not sure I like it."

"Will you do just those two things?"

"It's a beautiful programme. But suppose we leave out the first part? I think you could do that alone. It would spoil it if I went. It's such a nice little spontaneous idea of your own, you see. But if we made it a regular family delegation-besides, it will take as much as all me to manage the second. Rosamond is very elegant to-day. Last night's twilight isn't over. And it's funny we've plans too; we're going to give lessons,-differently; we're going to lead off, for once,-we Holabirds; and I don't know exactly how the music will chime in. It may make things-Holabirdy."

Rosamond had true perceptions, and she was conscientious. What she said, therefore, when she was told, was,-

"O dear! I suppose it is right! But-just now! Right things do come in so terribly askew, like good old Mr. Isosceles, sidling up the broad aisle of a Sunday! Couldn't you wait awhile, Ruth?"

"And then somebody else would get the chance."

"There's nobody else to be had."

"Nobody knows till somebody starts up. They don't know there's me to be had yet."

"O Ruth! Don't offer to teach grammar, anyhow!"

"I don't know. I might. I shouldn't teach it 'anyhow.'"

Ruth went off, laughing, happy. She knew she had gamed the home-half of her point.

Her heart beat a good deal, though, when she went into Mrs. Marchbanks's library alone, and sat waiting for the lady to come down.

She would rather have gone to Mrs. Hadden first, who was very kind and old-fashioned, and not so overpoweringly grand. But she had her justification for her attempt from Mrs. Marchbanks's own lips, and she must take up her opportunity as it came to her, following her clew right end first. She meant simply to tell Mrs. Marchbanks how she had happened to think of it.

"Good morning," said the great lady, graciously, wondering not a little what had brought the child, in this unceremonious early fashion, to ask for her.

"I came," said Ruth, after she had answered the good morning, "because I heard what you were so kind as to say last night about liking my playing; and that you had nobody just now to teach Lily. I thought, perhaps, you might be willing to try me; for I should like to do it, and I think I could show her all I know; and then I could take lessons myself of Mr. Viertelnote. I've been thinking about it all night."

Ruth Holabird had a direct little fashion of going straight through whatever crust of outside appearance to that which must respond to what she had at the moment in herself. She had real self-possession; because she did not let herself be magnetized into a false consciousness of somebody else's self, and think and speak according to their notions of things, or her reflected notion of what they would think of her. She was different from Rosamond in this; Rosamond could not help feeling her double,-Mrs. Grundy's "idea" of her. That was what Rosamond said herself about it, when Ruth told it all at home.

The response is almost always there to those who go for it; if it is not, there is no use any way.

Mrs. Marchbanks smiled.

"Does Mrs. Holabird know?"

"O yes; she always knows."

There was a little distance and a touch of business in Mrs. Marchbanks's manner after this. The child's own impulse had been very frank and amusing; an authorized seeking of employment was somewhat different. Still, she was kind enough; the impression had been made; perhaps Rosamond, with her "just now" feeling, would have been sensitive to what did not touch Ruth, at the moment, at all.

"But you see, my dear, that your having a pupil could not be quite equal to Mr. Viertelnote's doing the same thing. I mean the one would not quite provide for the other."

"O no, indeed! I'm in hopes to have two. I mean to go and see Mrs. Hadden about Reba; and then I might begin first, you know. If I could teach two quarters, I could take one."

"You have thought it all over. You are quite a little business woman. Now let us see. I do like your playing, Ruth. I think you have really a charming style. But whether you could impart it,-that is a different capacity."

"I am pretty good at showing how," said Ruth. "I think I could make her understand all I do."

"Well; I should be willing to pay twenty dollars a quarter to any lady who would bring Lily forward to where you are; if you can do it, I will pay it to you. If Mrs. Hadden will do the same, you will have two thirds of Viertelnote's price."

"O, that is so nice!" said Ruth, gratefully. "Then in half a quarter I could begin. And perhaps in that time I might get another."

"I shall be exceedingly interested in your getting on," said Mrs. Marchbanks, as Ruth arose to go. She said it very much as she might have said it to anybody who was going to try to earn money, and whom she meant to patronize. But Ruth took it singly; she was not two persons,-one who asked for work and pay, and another who expected to be treated as if she were privileged above either. She was quite intent upon her purpose.

If Mrs. Marchbanks had been patron kind, Mrs. Hadden was motherly so.

"You're a dear little thing! When will you begin?" said she.

Ruth's morning was a grand success. She came home with a rapid step, springing to a soundless rhythm.

She found Rosamond and Barbara and Harry Goldthwaite on the piazza, winding the rope rings with blue and scarlet and white and purple, and tying them with knots of ribbon.

Harry had been prompt enough. He had got the rope, and spliced it up himself, that morning, and had brought the ten rings over, hanging upon his arms like bangles.

They were still busy when dinner was ready; and Harry stayed at the first asking.

It was a scrub-day in the kitchen; and Katty came in to take the plates with her sleeves rolled up, a smooch of stove-polish across her arm, and a very indiscriminate-colored apron. She put one plate upon another in a hurry, over knives and forks and remnants, clattered a good deal, and dropped the salt-spoons.

Rosamond colored and frowned; but talked with a most resolutely beautiful repose.

Afterward, when it was all over, and Harry had gone, promising to come next day and bring a stake, painted vermilion and white, with a little gilt ball on the top of it, she sat by the ivied window in the brown room with tears in her eyes.

"It is dreadful to live so!" she said, with real feeling. "To have just one wretched girl to do everything!"

"Especially," said Barbara, without much mercy, "when she always will do it at dinner-time."

"It's the betwixt and between that I can't bear," said Rose. "To have to do with people like the Penningtons and the Marchbankses, and to see their ways; to sit at tables where there is noiseless and perfect serving, and to know that they think it is the 'mainspring of life' (that's just what Mrs. Van Alstyne said about it the other day); and then to have to hitch on so ourselves, knowing just as well what ought to be as she does,-it's too bad. It's double dealing. I'd rather not know, or pretend any better. I do wish we belonged somewhere!"

Ruth felt sorry. She always did when Rosamond was hurt with these things. She knew it came from a very pure, nice sense of what was beautiful, and a thoroughness of desire for it. She knew she wanted it every day, and that nobody hated shams, or company contrivances, more heartily. She took great trouble for it; so that when they were quite alone, and Rosamond could manage, things often went better than when guests came and divided her attention.

Ruth went over to where she sat.

"Rose, perhaps we do belong just here. Somebody has got to be in the shading-off, you know. That helps both ways."

"It's a miserable indefiniteness, though."

"No, it isn't," said Barbara, quickly. "It's a good plan, and I like it. Ruth just hits it. I see now what they mean by 'drawing lines.' You can't draw them anywhere but in the middle of the stripes. And people that are right in the middle have to 'toe the mark.' It's the edge, after all. You can reach a great deal farther by being betwixt and between. And one girl needn't always be black-leaded, nor drop all the spoons."

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